2021: A year in review

14-year-old Patience wearing the glasses she received from Sightsavers, smiling with her mother in Liberia. They’re surrounded by colourful illustrations and the text 2021: a year in review.
14-year-old Patience wearing the glasses she received from Sightsavers, smiling with her mother in Liberia. They’re surrounded by colourful illustrations and the text 2021: a year in review.

For more than 70 years, Sightsavers has been preventing avoidable blindness and fighting for the rights of people with disabilities.

Even during the turbulence of 2021 we were able to reach a huge number of people around the world, providing millions of sight-saving eye operations and billions of treatments to prevent blinding diseases. We also raised more income than ever, thanks to the generosity and loyalty of our supporters.

Every gift we receive helps us continue our vital work, and we make sure these funds go as far as possible. Our full annual report and financial statement provides detailed information about where this money goes, ensuring we’re accountable to our donors, staff, partners and programme participants.

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Watch the video: Sightsavers CEO Caroline Harper shares her 2021 highlights.

Cover image: Betty from Liberia with her 14-year-old daughter Patience, wearing the glasses she received from Sightsavers.

In 2021, thanks to the work of Sightsavers and our partners around the world...

410,445

people had sight-saving eye operations

172.8 million

treatments were distributed to prevent disease

19,788

children with disabilities were able to
go to school

During the year we raised

£237 million

through donations, legacies, gifts in kind and other charitable activities

125

new members of staff joined Sightsavers in 2021, and

32

research papers were published by us to support and inform our work

41,860

people in the UK donated to us for the first time, and

26.3 million

people read our posts on social media

In 2021, thanks to the work of Sightsavers and our partners around the world...

410,445

people had sight-saving eye operations

172.8 million

treatments were distributed to prevent disease

19,622

children with disabilities were able to go to school

During the year we raised

£237 million

through donations, legacies, gifts in kind and other charitable activities

125

new members of staff joined Sightsavers in 2021, and

32

research papers were published by us to support and inform our work

41,860

people in the UK donated to us for the first time, and

26.3 million

people read our posts on social media

Our highlights from 2021

We helped to eliminate blinding trachoma in The Gambia 

In April 2021, the World Health Organization confirmed that The Gambia had become the second country in sub-Saharan Africa to eliminate trachoma. Sightsavers has been working alongside the Gambian government to tackle the disease since 1986, when it was found to be the third leading cause of blindness in the country. Sightsavers country director Balla Musa Joof said: “This is a huge achievement. After decades of hard work, our children can grow up without fear of this disease.”

Read about The Gambia’s achievement

More than 21,500 people joined our call for inclusive education 

Ahead of the G7 summit in June and the Global Education Summit in July, we published an open letter to countries attending the summits, calling on them to uphold the right to education for children with disabilities. The letter, part of our Equal World campaign, was signed by more than 21,500 supporters in 119 countries, and was accompanied by a video message to world leaders from children with disabilities in Sierra Leone.

Read the news story and watch the video 

We delivered a huge number of NTD treatments

In 2021 our neglected tropical disease (NTD) projects delivered more than 172 million treatments to protect and treat people for debilitating diseases such as trachoma and river blindness: this was four times higher than the previous year. We achieved this thanks to new tools and processes, such as the RAMA risk assessment tool introduced in 2020, which enabled us to continue our work during the COVID-19 pandemic while still protecting staff and patients.

Our work to tackle neglected tropical diseases

Our staff won awards for their work  

Sightsavers’ staff continued to excel in 2021, and many were rewarded for their efforts. Anande Swai, Dr Sencodri Njau and Dr Upendo Mwakabalile received Vision Excellence Awards from the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness. Gertrude Oforiwa Fefoame received the inaugural World Blind Union Women’s Empowerment Award, while researcher Kareen Atekem was a finalist in the NTD Innovation Prize competition. We ended the year on a high by winning a prestigious Zero Project award for our accessibility audit pack.

Our awards and accolades 

We raised more money to help us change millions of lives 

During the year we raised a record amount of income: our supporters gave generously, helping to increase our income from donations and legacies by more than £19 million. Charity evaluator GiveWell continued to recommend funds for Sightsavers’ deworming work in Africa, with grants totalling US$8.8 million. We also raised £69,000 during our Giving Tuesday appeal in November, with donations on the day matched and doubled by a generous group of supporters. 

We made great progress with our disability rights work

In 2021 our Equal World campaign expanded as we branched out into campaigning in multiple countries, and focused on issues including vaccine equity and the African Disability Protocol, a human rights treaty addressing Africa-specific disability rights issues. We also launched a petition calling for governments and other decision-makers to attend the 2022 Global Disability Summit and make ambitious, properly financed commitments to disability inclusive development. Our global advocacy work saw great progress, particularly in Pakistan, where we helped to develop inclusive eye health strategies, partnered with the Pakistan Development Alliance to consult with disability organisations, and supported the first national disability data survey.

About the Equal World campaign

We helped to eliminate blinding trachoma in The Gambia 

In April 2021, the World Health Organization confirmed that The Gambia had become the second country in sub-Saharan Africa to eliminate trachoma. Sightsavers has been working alongside the Gambian government to tackle the disease since 1986, when it was found to be the third leading cause of blindness in the country. Sightsavers country director Balla Musa Joof said: “This is a huge achievement. After decades of hard work, our children can grow up without fear of this disease.”

Read about The Gambia’s achievement

More than 21,500 people joined our call for inclusive education 

Ahead of the G7 summit in June and the Global Education Summit in July, we published an open letter to countries attending the summits, calling on them to uphold the right to education for children with disabilities. The letter, part of our Equal World campaign, was signed by more than 21,500 supporters in 119 countries, and was accompanied by a video message to world leaders from children with disabilities in Sierra Leone.

Read the news story and watch the video 

We delivered a huge number of NTD treatments 

In 2021 our neglected tropical disease (NTD) projects delivered more than 172 million treatments to protect and treat people for debilitating diseases such as trachoma and river blindness: this was four times higher than the previous year. We achieved this thanks to new tools and processes, such as the RAMA risk assessment tool introduced in 2020, which enabled us to continue our work during the COVID-19 pandemic while still protecting staff and patients.

Our work to tackle neglected tropical diseases

Our staff won awards for their work  

Sightsavers’ staff continued to excel in 2021, and many were rewarded for their efforts. Anande Swai, Dr Sencodri Njau and Dr Upendo Mwakabalile received Vision Excellence Awards from the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness. Gertrude Oforiwa Fefoame received the inaugural World Blind Union Women’s Empowerment Award, while researcher Kareen Atekem was a finalist in the NTD Innovation Prize competition. We ended the year on a high by winning a prestigious Zero Project award for our accessibility audit pack.

Our awards and accolades 

We raised more money to help us change millions of lives 

During the year we raised a record amount of income: our supporters gave generously, helping to increase our income from donations and legacies by more than £19 million. Charity evaluator GiveWell continued to recommend funds for Sightsavers’ deworming work in Africa, with grants totalling US$8.8 million. We also raised £69,000 during our Giving Tuesday appeal in November, with donations on the day matched and doubled by a generous group of supporters. 

We made great progress with our disability rights work

In 2021 our Equal World campaign expanded as we branched out into campaigning in multiple countries, and focused on issues including vaccine equity and the African Disability Protocol, a human rights treaty addressing Africa-specific disability rights issues. We also launched a petition calling for governments and other decision-makers to attend the 2022 Global Disability Summit and make ambitious, properly financed commitments to disability inclusive development. Our global advocacy work saw great progress, particularly in Pakistan, where we helped to develop inclusive eye health strategies, partnered with the Pakistan Development Alliance to consult with disability organisations, and supported the first national disability data survey.

About the Equal World campaign

Spotlight on our organisation

Three bar charts showing data about Sightsavers staff. Chart 1 shows 738 staff worldwide, as of December 2021, with an image of Masud Rana, monitoring officer from Sightsavers Bangladesh. Chart 2 shows 60% of staff are non-UK employees working in Africa and Asia, with an image of Martins Imhansoloeva, researcher from Sightsavers Nigeria. Chart 3 shows 51% of staff are women, with an image of Jenny Bouston, supporter care manager from Sightsavers UK.
Bar chart showing statistics about Sightsavers staff: 738 staff worldwide, 60% of our staff are non-UK employees working in Africa and Asia; and 51% of our staff are women.
Bar chart showing statistics about Sightsavers staff: 738 staff worldwide, 60% of our staff are non-UK employees working in Africa and Asia; and 51% of our staff are women.

About our staff

Our global workforce grew during the year: we welcomed more than 120 new members of staff, and by the end of December 2021 we employed more than 730 people around the world. Just over half our global staff (and three-quarters of our UK staff) are women, and nearly 8% of our employees report having a disability.  

As part of our commitment to diversity and inclusion, in 2021 we appointed an external agency to carry out our first racial diversity survey. The results were encouraging, with staff reporting that they feel Sightsavers is a very inclusive place to work. Nevertheless, we remain committed to improving our diversity and have groups of staff from across the organisation working to achieve this.

We make sure our wages are competitive: all UK staff are paid at least the living wage, including apprentices and interns, enabling us to recruit and retain the best employees.

Our remuneration committee of trustees approves the salary of our CEO and all individual staff who report to her. Our gender pay gap compares very favourably with the average: our mean gender pay gap is just 0.27% in favour of men, and we now have more women than men employed in the higher pay grades.

Our environmental impact

Sightsavers’ environmental policy, approved in 2021, shows our commitment to reducing our impact on the planet. Our new carbon reduction plan aims to ensure our greenhouse gas emissions reach net zero by 2050, in line with UK government strategy. And when designing new projects, we’re focusing on using energy-efficient equipment, reducing and correctly disposing of waste, and raising environmental awareness among our partners. 

To ensure we’re as energy-efficient as possible, we refurbished our UK office in 2021 and replaced older computer monitors, fridges, coffee machines and vending machines with more efficient models. Halogen light bulbs are being replaced with LED bulbs when they fail, and we’ve reduced our use of heating and air conditioning. 

Read our new environmental policy

Sightsavers and COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic continued to challenge us throughout the year. We used our existing programmes and processes to distribute hygiene equipment and share information, and we integrated COVID-19 awareness activities into our work. We also shared our learning about working during a pandemic, emphasised the need for response measures to be inclusive of people with disabilities, and worked with our partners to make this possible.  

Tiangay Gondoe, Sightsavers programme manager in Sierra Leone, said: “COVID-19 has raised awareness about preventing infection: one result has been a greater emphasis on hygiene and hand washing. This has limited the spread of eye infections from touch and contact.” 

Our impact around
the world


Sightsavers works in more than 30 countries in Africa and Asia, where we partner with local, regional, national and international organisations and governments. 

Bangladesh  

Sightsavers runs eye screening camps aimed at marginalised groups such as the transgender community, who often experience discrimination and can find it hard to access health care.

Meet some of the people weve helped 

Côte d’Ivoire 

In 2021 the Accelerate programme, led by Sightsavers, carried out its final operations to treat advanced trachoma in Côte d’Ivoire. This is a major milestone in the journey to eliminate the disease in 14 countries.

How trachoma surgery has changed lives in Côte d’Ivoire 

Guinea-Bissau 

On the Bijagos Islands, about 30 miles off the coast of Guinea-Bissau, we’re distributing medication for trachoma in the most remote communities. Our aim is to make sure everyone is treated and no one is left behind.

Watch our staff video diaries to see our work in action 

India 

In the northern state of Rajasthan, we’ve helped to launch a brilliant initiative run by people with disabilities, enabling them to provide fresh food for the community at low prices.

Indira Rasoi: take a tour of the kitchen 

Malawi 

Sightsavers is working with more than 40 community childcare centres to enable young children with disabilities to attend pre-school. By introducing children to the idea of inclusivity at an early age, we aim to transform attitudes towards disability.

See how the programme is challenging stigma  

Nigeria 

People with diseases affecting the skin shared their photos as part of our research into how these conditions can be better managed. They were recruited as co-researchers for the Countdown programme.

Hear stories from the programme 

Tanzania 

To address the lack of eye health professionals in Tanzania, Sightsavers has helped to train a group of ophthalmic assistants who are now working at remote eye screening camps and local hospitals across the country.

About the new recruits 

Uganda/Kenya 

In October 2021, we supported the ministries of health in Kenya and Uganda to join forces and distribute the first cross-border treatments for trachoma, bringing the two countries another step closer to eliminating the disease.

Read the news story 

Our voices

In 2021, my country banished a blinding disease

“At school they taught us about trachoma: how it’s contagious and steals sight. I started working as an ophthalmic nurse in 2014, and I asked to be involved in trachoma screening. I’ve done operations in the field, given out medication and told people about eye health and hygiene. Now trachoma is gone, it benefits my patients, my family and my country.”  
Lamin, The Gambia

Meet the people who helped to achieve this milestone 

Lamin stands outside holding an eye test chart and talking to some people out of shot. He's wearing a crisp white shirt.

In 2021, I got my sight back 

“Three years ago, my sight started to go – soon I couldn’t see anything, even my grandchildren. We had such a miserable time: my wife died and I couldn’t send my children to school. So I never got my eyesight checked. Poor people cannot go to hospital – we have no money. But since my operation I can see everything. I have blossomed like the flowers blossom!”
Sardar, Pakistan

Find out how Sardar’s sight was restored

Sardar smiles broadly as his grandchildren's hands touch his face. He's wearing dark sunglasses to protect his eyes after surgery.

In 2021, I was given medicine at school to protect me from disease 

“I’m 10 years old and I go to a village school. I’ve had worms before – I didn’t feel well and I had a fever. My tummy was reeling, I was throwing up and I had diarrhoea. But I’ve taken the medication and it went well. I didn’t throw up. I don’t have a tummy ache any more!”
Norbertine, Cameroon

Read about our deworming work, supported by GiveWell

Norbertine smiles during one of her lessons at school. She's wearing her uniform and has a face mask under her chin.

In 2021, I enrolled on an innovative IT training programme   

“I see the training course as a game changer. It’s going to change my life: I’ll have a job, and I’ll have my daily bread. I’d also like to support people with disabilities to learn skills like the ones I’ve gained, and support them so they can stand for themselves.”
Benson, Kenya

Meet Bensons fellow students at the IT Bridge Academy  

Benson stands outside, holding a white cane. He's wearing a blue baseball cap and a white zip-up sports top.

In 2021, I was able to learn alongside my friends

“I don’t go to school every day. I walk to get there: it takes me about an hour, and I often fall down. Sometimes I feel shy about passing people. They look at me and watch me. But now I can go to school on a motorcycle. Since the start of Sightsavers’ programme, my teachers and friends are encouraging me. That is why I am happy to go to school.”
Saio, Sierra Leone

Read Saios story

Saio stands outside on a dusty street, wearing her school uniform. Her physical disability can be seen: her feet are turned inwards.

In 2021, I played my part to keep fighting neglected tropical diseases 

“The Ascend programme to tackle neglected tropical diseases closed in 2021 after two years. In Ghana we were able to treat millions of people: one of my proudest moments was seeing how much people’s health had improved. Ascend’s early closure has added to existing funding gaps: we are grateful to those who have stepped in to fill some of them, but the job is far from over.”
David, Sightsavers Ghana

Learn what the Ascend programme has achieved

David smiles while sitting in the sunshine. He's wearing a white polo shirt featuring the Sightsavers logo.

Finances in focus

While Sightsavers’ income from donations and legacies rose by 30% to £81 million in 2021, our total income fell 9% to £236.78 million, compared with £261 million in 2020. Our total expenditure also fell to almost £213.62 million, from £250 million in 2020. This was because of less donated medication (gifts in kind) being used during the COVID-19 pandemic.

For more details about our finances, see our full annual report.

Global income

Pie chart showing breakdown of our 2021 income of £236.78 million. Individual figures are detailed in the table below.
Income
£42.12 million Charitable activities
£112.69 million Gifts in kind
£81.46 million Donations and legacies
£189,000 Investments
£263,000 Other trading
£47,000 Other income

Global expenditure

Pie chart showing breakdown of our 2021 expenditure of £213.62 million. Individual figures are detailed in the table below.
Expenditure
£112.26 million Gifts in kind drug donations
£50.06 million Neglected tropical diseases
£15.38 million Eye health
£3.73 million Policy and research
£9.86 million Social inclusion
£3.39 million Education
£18.58 million Raising funds
£360,000 Other expenditure

Thank you to all our supporters

We’re truly grateful to our donors, partners, staff, programme participants and everyone else who makes our life-changing work possible. Watch our video to see some of the amazing things you’re helping us to achieve.

© 2022 Sightsavers. Registered charity numbers 207544 and SC038110